The Hoosier Environmental Council has outlined its priorities for the upcoming legislative session. The group will talk about some of those at their virtual Greening the Statehouse event this Friday and Saturday.
The group will also watch what the state intends to do with its surplus this year. HEC senior policy director Tim Maloney said the one-time funding could be put towards things like public parks, trails, and greenways — which have been in high demand due to the pandemic.
“It has a demonstrated return on investment — economically and the well being of Hoosiers," he said.
Support more investment in renewable energy — especially rooftop solar. Several bills have attempted to rollback Senate Enrolled Act 309 — which phased down the credits people with solar panels get for excess energy that they deliver to the grid. Maloney said he anticipates some bills will be filed on this topic in 2022 as well.
Defend the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ power to protect wetlands. This year, lawmakers significantly cut the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s ability to protect wetlands and Maloney expects the DNR might be next. A Wayne County farm manager has started a campaign to limit the agency’s ability to regulate drains on private property — including making sure anything blocking a drain in a floodway is removed.
Maloney feels the need to remove the DNR’s floodway permitting program is unfounded because while some agricultural drainage projects do require a permit, others can be granted an exemption. He said it’s important that Indiana’s waterways can properly hold floodwaters. When they can’t, Maloney said it puts properties and people at risk from flooding — which can come with a heavy price tag.
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Back the climate legislation from Confront the Climate Crisis. The youth nonprofit worked with Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) to develop a resolution that acknowledges the problem of climate change and create a task force to build a climate action plan for Indiana.
Bolster bills to clean up and safely landfill coal ash waste. A law that passed this year put the IDEM in charge of coal ash permitting instead of the federal government. Maloney said the HEC would like to see stronger oversight of coal ash. Right now, many coal ash ponds in Indiana are unlined and too close to groundwater sources — which means there’s the potential for leaks. Maloney said two bills that would regulate how coal ash can be disposed of were introduced in this past legislative session and will likely be brought up again. Those bills died because the House environmental committee chair refused to hear any of the bills assigned to him from the House.
Back carbon offsets, but oppose the carbon capture and storage project in Terre Haute. This year, lawmakers introduced a bill that would have created a state program to help landowners sell carbon credits to businesses that want to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. Maloney said it’s not clear if there will be any new legislation that came out of a working group that met after that bill failed. The HEC opposed an amendment to a state pilot program that would have prevented Wabash Valley Resources, LLC in Terre Haute from getting sued if its plans to put carbon emissions underground goes awry. That measure also failed, but Maloney said the HEC will be watching to see if there is new legislation to re-introduce that as well.
Watch bills that come out of the state wastewater infrastructure task force. Maloney said the HEC supports affordable wastewater infrastructure upgrades — which can improve water quality as well as give Hoosiers a better quality of life. He said the state has also discussed having wastewater utilities coordinate with each other to create wastewater districts. Maloney said there’s no telling which of the task force recommendations might appear in this upcoming legislative session.
Support the development of more river basin commissions. These regional groups address water issues throughout an entire river basin — things like flood control, soil and water conservation, water quality, and how water resources are managed. The Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission is one example. Maloney said it’s important that there is strong public participation in these commissions, however, and that conservation approaches to management are considered.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.